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January 10th, 2024


Nate Postlethwait, who I follow on Facebook, writes about healing from childhood trauma, but I find that much of what he says makes sense from the point of view of gay adults like myself, who had to endure decades of emotional abuse starting in adolescence, when our sexual orientation began to make itself insistent. You can argue that we started feeling it even before then, when it was only a half awareness that we were different somehow, in some really really bad way, that we had to hide from the world, and ourselves…

A Coming Out Story – Episode 18, What I Learned About Homosexuality Part 2

…but it was when those first crushes happened that you really knew you weren’t just different, you were an abomination. And back when I came of age, the abuse came from every direction. From the pulpit of course, but also from the TV, the newspapers, the magazines…

A Coming Out Story – Intermission – What I Learned About Homosexuality. . . And Myself (Part 2)

And it did its work on you, even if, like me, you came out to yourself in the magic of first love. I was 17 and I thought it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. And I never felt a shred of shame about it. He was beautiful. He was decent. He was the sort of guy I could have brought home to mom in a better world, knowing she would take to him instantly and approve of our relationship. But it wasn’t that better world that I came of age in.

In my early twenties I went to my first Pride Day in downtown Washington DC’s gay neighborhood. Anita Bryant had waged a war on a simple non-discrimination law protecting gay people by throwing every filthy lie about us she could think up and it went down in flames. I was angry, and motivated to activism. I swore I would not allow the homophobia I just witnessed to touch my heart.

But it did. I’m 70 now. I will die having walked an entire adult life without finding love, with the scars all over my heart. Proud though I was, I came of age in a dating pool that was mostly terrified, or in denial. For a while I would post stories every Valentine’s Day about being a young gay man trying to find love in a culture that threw contempt and hate at us from every direction

The magnitude of what was taken from us, so righteous people could make their stepping stones to heaven out of the pieces of our hearts, is nearly impossible to grasp.

And I have tried for decades to understand that mindset. The books I have read. The studies I have examined. The conversations I’ve sat in on. And I’m thinking, What’s Wrong With Them??? No, seriously, what the Hell Is Wrong With Them??? Read about Christian Identity, the religion of the Neo-Nazis sometime and see if it doesn’t make your head spin.

I have never found any answers I could be satisfied with. But now at last, at the doorstep to 70, I think maybe I can just let go of the question.

Postlethwait put this up on his Facebook page today…

It feels so much like just throwing up your hands and giving up, and that runs against every inner instinct I have. I’m a geek…I have to know. It might even be hard wired into me like my sexual orientation. But I’ve done my best and all I have to show for it is a better understanding of how bigotry and hate embodies in people, how culture shapes the forms it takes, how to recognize the bedrock of hate in mass movements though they may claim a landscape of heritage, faith, and moral tradition. All that is good, but the why of it is as elusive as ever.

It can be that. The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote…

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”

There’s a scene in the TV miniseries, The Winds of War, I forget which episode now but it taps me on the shoulder at times, with Pug in FDR’s rail car and he’s talking to the president about what he’s seen and experienced in Germany. FDR says wistfully that Germans are a hard people to understand, and Pug replies “The only thing we need to know about the Germans is how to beat them.” Now, that’s a military man talking and I can appreciate that from his vantage point that’s really all he needs to know about a potential enemy. But FDR would want to know more because his job isn’t as focused on the one thing that Pug’s is. Still, it’s a good line. I’ve thought of it often during the course of this civil rights struggle.

The only thing we need to know about bigots is how to beat them. You will never make sense of their hate because there is no sense to it.

Activism can be a way of not dealing with your personal pain, even as you acknowledge it. And prejudice taught me there was something wrong with me. Despite all the activism and all the pride, deep down inside I believed it.

I’m my father’s son. I’m the product of a broken home. An only child. Weird. Not masculine enough. Takes excessive interest in personal art projects, as my first grade teacher wrote in my file. The kid that uses big words. Introverted. Homosexual. Ugly. No fashion sense. 

This is how being bullied, not just by the other kids but by adults in your life, corrodes your sense of self. There was nothing wrong with me. I was a kid, finding his way in the world like all the others. And if you’re reading this and you feel it too, then know that there was nothing wrong with you.

I’m my father’s son, but I am not my father. I was raised by a single divorced mother but she loved me and set a good example for me and I’ll have the so-called broken home I grew up in over every traditional family I’ve ever witnessed that can’t stop fighting with each other. Only children aren’t the selfish self centered stereotypes we’re made to be; self motivation and independence are our strengths. We make friends and fall in love like everyone else, but we are almost preternaturally good at keeping ourselves company and we are not going to beg for your attention. Gay people experience the joys of love and desire like anyone else. Introverts just need a little more quiet time than others is all; we get that time to recharge and we’re fine. Ugly is as much a slur as any racist slur against the person within because of how they look. There is no such thing as having excessive interest in your art because art is the joy of being alive. I didn’t use big words so much as I had a big vocabulary because I read so much, and that’s a good thing because reading grows you from inside. If there is no such thing as having an excessive interest in your art, there is also no such thing as having too many books. And I have lived long enough now to see fashions come and go and all you need is to be good with what you see in the mirror.

Sensibility. For when senselessness rears it’s stupid head. You don’t need to know the why of it. There is nothing wrong with you. Do not wear someone else’s labels. It’s not good fashion.

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